Gray Whale News April 2015



This year has seen an extraordinary migration as the graph below, courtesy of the American Cetacean Society, demonstrates. We saw more cows and calves, much larger pods and very few sightings of skinny whales.

At Guerrero Negro, a record number of cows and calves were counted. People flocked to the Baja Lagunas to enjoy the migration and experience the magic of whale encounters.

BUT.. and this is a big BUT.. the whales are facing major threats. The Coalition knew when reports came through of the increase in the population that the Makah Tribe in Washington State would soon re-visit their efforts to resume whaling, claiming their Treaty rights gave them the authority to kill Gray Whales.

Literally, the day after the Coalition returned from Guerrero Negro to San Diego, we were told of the new request by the Makah for a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

chart of gray whale migration statistics

This season is the first time NMFS has used thermal sensors to count the migration.  These sensors are remarkable as they function day and night and remove the necessity of a human count. NMFS is carrying out two separate counts, one by a team of people who have carried out the count for many years and the second one on the thermal sensors. The biggest plus for sensors is the fact that they can enable an accurate night count.



Two Coalition representatives met with senior scientists from the National Marine & Fisheries Service (NMFS) at La Jolla.

There was much to discuss as the whales are surrounded by a smorgasbord of major threats, including the potential slaughter by the Tribe.

We discussed at length the Makah application for a waiver. A few days later, the massive draft EIS (DEIS) arrived by email, all 1,230 pages. The public is given until June ll, to submit comments. An impossible time frame for any serious researcher to go through this huge document.  Animal Welfare Institute in Washington DC has written to NMFS requesting an extension of the deadline to August l0.

gray whale waching

Because the Makah waiver application has very serious ramifications by setting precedents which could see the International Whaling Commission (IWC) adopt a new category for whaling, the Coalition is going to set out in point form some of the critical points in the DEIS.

As the waiver request comes under the provisions of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), it is vitally important to read the information that follows which demonstrate the efforts of NMFS to ensure the public is not made aware of two critical scientific meetings focused on the Gray Whale, and that documentation from these two meetings has been excluded from the DEIS.     The Act REQUIRES that Federal agencies must ensure that environmental information is available to public officials AND citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken.  The information must be of high quality.  Accurate scientific analysis, expert agency comments, and public scrutiny are essential to implementing NEPA.

It is important for Gray Whale people to make submissions to NMFS and we will include the relevant Federal Register notice, addresses for submissions and timing of public meetings in this newsletter.  For those of you who want to plough through 1,230 pages, the URL is:-


This newsletter will highlight the key points which need to be made in any submission. The Coalition is aware that some folk would not regard a quota of five whales per year as likely to impact the population

That’s probably true but the precedent set by granting a waiver will :-

  • Set an unholy precedent at IWC, particularly as Japan is attempting to have its coastal communities given the same rights as the US is seeking for the Makah Tribe.
  • Set the wheels in motion for the killing of Humpback Whales as efforts are being made to delist the Northern Humpback Whale from the Endangered Species List.  The Tribe has indicated its desire to kill Humpbacks.
  • Sets a precedent for a significant number of Native American Indian Tribes to claim discrimination and seek the same whaling rights as the Makah.
  • The Bowhead whale quota for Alaskan Inuits is a source of great controversy at IWC and within the conservation community.  If a waiver is granted to the Makah, the US will have cemented its position as a whaling nation.  A total reversal of a proud record of whale conservation.
  • The Tribe proposes killing a maximum of five Gray whales per year on average and up to 24 whales in a 6 year period.   The number of whales struck ( and not killed) would be no more than 42 over the six year period.
  • The Makah Tribe claims hunting gray whales is a treaty right.  The Tribe says the exercise of its treaty whaling rights will provide a traditional subsistence resource to the community and sustain and revitalise the ceremonial, cultural, and social aspects of its whaling traditions.
  • An Indian magazine carries an article which  demonstrates the battle those of us who want to protect whales are facing.

After that first hunt ( in l999) the Makah enjoyed a resurgence of interest in their culture. Young people of the tribe began learning the old ways, the traditions and the legends, absorbing the medicine of their heritage and healing from over 200 years of cultural disruption. The dormant roots of their whaling tradition resumed feeding them.”

These words can only be described as a figment of the writer’s fertile imagination. Killing whales in the 21st Century has no place in any culture. A dead whale is a dead whale. If a waiver is granted by the Federal government, then the IWC will have to accept a new whale killing category – healing over 200 years of cultural disruption.”

Makah Tribe hunting Gray WhaleComment:  The Makah Tribe stopped whaling almost 80 years ago.  At that time the Tribe also practiced slavery. At the IWC, currently the only aboriginal subsistence whaling allowed is carried out by indigenous communities living in remote regions, with the exception of the Caribbean.

  • The DEIS allows for the killing of Pacific Coast Feeding Group, resident whales in the Washington waters.
  • The DEIS is unable to ensure that the highly endangered Western Gray Whale will not be killed.
  • Only genetic analysis would allow identification of a whale as either Eastern North Pacific, Western Pacific Whale or a member of the Pacific Coast Feeding Group.  It is impossible to ID these whales as they all look alike.
  • The DEIS lacks important published research on the extent of Orca predation which has been estimated at 35% of calves.    Given the increase in numbers, and the ability of transient Orcas to move deeper into Gray whale habitat in the Arctic as the ice melts, the rate of predation is likely to be as high or higher than 35%.  No current Russian figures or current research have been included in the DEIS.
  • Public participation is essential to the legal processes yet NMFS has specifically ensured that the findings of two important meetings which are highly relevant to the future of the Gray Whale will not be included in any scoping.
  • Seven days after the June ll date when public comments currently close, the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee will be holding a meeting in San Diego.   Some of the scientists at this meeting will almost certainly not have time to provide any relevant information to the DEIS.
  • An IWC inter-sessional workshop on the Gray whales will be held in La Jolla April l-3.  Both these workshops will result in new findings, conclusions and/or information which is entirely relevant to the DEIS.  However, NMFS has not provided the public with sufficient time to evaluate the outcomes of these meetings.

The DEIS acknowledges that if the Makah hunt is authorized, it may lead to future regulatory changes that would in turn lead to increased hunts of whales or other marine mammals.

This newsletter does not allow the space for in depth information for submissions.   The points listed can be the basis of a short letter.  If anyone would like to have in depth information, the Coalition will be preparing its own submission of objection and we’re happy to pass on a comprehensive summary of the main issues.  Please contact the Coalition at:

Federal Register / Vol. 80. No. 54/Friday, March 20, 2015/ Notices.

Submissions can be written or electronic and must be lodged no later than 5 pm PDT on June ll, 2015.

Comments must be identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0104.  Electronic submissions can go via the Federal eRulemaking Portal OR email:

Mail: Submissions to: Steve Stone, NMFS West Coast Region, 1201 NE Lloyd Blvd. Suite 1100, Portland, Or 97232

Names and addresses should be included.  But NMFS will accept anonymous comments as well.

Public Meetings:

1) April 27, 2015, 6-30-9.30pm NOAA Western Regional Center, 7600 Sand Point Way, NE., Seattle

2)  April 29, 6.30pm- 9.30 pm Vern Burton Memorial Community Center, 308 East 4th Street, Port Angeles, Washington.




gray whale close up

In December 2013, NMFS authorized the Navy’s training and testing activities in the SOCAL complex for the period from 2013-2018 that allowed the following amounts of harassment:-

  • Eastern North Pacific Gray Whales – l5 Level A ( deaths) harassment and 60,590 Level B harassment.
  • Western North Pacific Gray Whales – 0 Level A and 60 Level B.
  • Naval activities could cause l5 serious whale injuries or mortality from vessel strikes.  The target area overlaps with portions of the Gray Whale migration corridor, the Pacific Feeding Group range and the coastal area where the Makah proposes hunting Gray Whales.
  • Early April, the U.S. Department of the Interior upheld a 2008 lease sale on the Arctic’s Chuchki Sea, opening the door for continued oil exploration in a region long eyed for drilling by Shell Corporation and increasingly strained under the effects of climate change.
  • The decision opens up 30 million acres in the Chuchki Sea to fossil fuel exploration and drilling, a move which state and national green groups called “unconscionable.”
  • An increasing number of seismic surveys are being authorised by Californian authorities – creating a noisy environment and further stressing whales.
  • Developments in Mexico and the Russian Federation are ignored in the DEIS.

In summary, the Gray whale is in need of all the human help that can be generated.

Please oppose the Makah waiver.  It’s ironic that the Tribe which lives next door to the Makah, the Quileute nation, honour the whales and hold welcoming ceremonies.

Climate change, melting sea ice, resource developments in the Arctic, increased shipping, naval exercises, seismic surveys, ocean acidification, wave energy projects, Fukushima radiation, the list of threats is a long one.

You can help by making your voice heard.

For the Whales,

Sue Arnold



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